A Good Crop Begins Long Before Planting
Decisions on rotations, varieties, planting rate and planting dates should be made far in advance to adequately plan.
By Shannon Holman
Much like a prizefighter, profitability for todayís peanut producers is in many cases won or lost before the first punch is thrown or the first seed is planted. The old foes - rising production costs and unpredictable weather - demand much thought and planning to defeat.
Growers have to consider such things as rotation plans and soil characteristics in advance, stay up-to-date on varieties and their characteristics, and make decisions on when and how much to plant. And although peanut farming has moved toward a more streamlined and business-like approach than ever before, there is still no cookbook formula that will work for every farm.
To further complicate matters, there are not only differences among the three major peanut producing regions as discussed below, but also between individual farms in the same locale due to different financial restraints such as debt load, equity, land ownership, soil type, etc. Thus, each producer has to weigh the pros and cons of each decision they make.
Virginia - Carolina
David Jordan, a peanut agronomist with North Carolina State University, says producers in his region have many decisions to make before planting begins - including how many acres to plant, planting dates, planting rates, varieties, rotation, disease and insect management and weed control - with profitability hinging on the right combination of all these factors for a given farm.
"One of the first things a grower has to think about is how many pounds of quota he has and how many acres of total production he has. He needs to decide what the yield potential of his land is, guess at what his average will be, and then decide how many acres of peanuts to plant to make his quota," says Jordan.
Wes Alexander, Virginia Extension agent, says that many farmers in the area plant based on a speculative yield of 3,000 pounds per acre.
Furthermore, since the number of peanut acres has been declining in the region, some producers are able to grow fewer peanuts in proportion to the amount of land they have, contends Jack Bailey, North Carolina State University plant pathologist.
"Farmers have an opportunity to use rotation to their advantage. Rotation to a non-host crop is the most powerful tool we have for controlling diseases. Just by lengthening a rotation by one more year, you can benefit greatly," he says.
What Determines Variety Selection?
Bailey emphasizes that it is also important for growers to keep a good record of what diseases they have in which field. Thus, a farmer can then lengthen his rotation in certain fields when possible. Moreover, he adds, making disease maps that outline a field and highlighting where the diseases were most severe can be very useful and important in the decision-making process, especially with soil-borne diseases that tend to stay put longer than foliar diseases.
"If a disease, such as CBR (Cylindrocladium black rot) or Sclerotinia blight, was severe in half of a field, then a producer might consider dividing the field in half and treating it differently. They might choose a different variety or a different fungicide and use more preventative measures on that side of the field," says Bailey. "This can be much more cost efficient than treating the entire field the same."
One of the next steps a grower must consider is where to fumigate. Bailey contends that preventative treatment can work well on diseases such as CBR. And since a farmer has to fumigate two weeks prior to his projected planting date, he needs to plan ahead in order to decide where to fumigate and prepare the land early enough.
"It costs about $30 an acre to fumigate, but it pays for itself easily where CBR is present," Jordan says. "The rule of thumb is that if at least 10 percent of the field was affected by CBR the last time peanuts were planted, it pays to fumigate, even if you have rotated off for three or four years."
Along the same lines, there are also many weed management considerations. Growers have to decide whether to use soil-incorporated herbicides or use pre-emergence or at-cracking treatments, depending on what weed species are likely to be present and whether or not the field has been fumigated.
Another important decision a producer has to make is what variety to plant. Should producers choose varieties based on disease resistance, maturity, or marketing value? These are all factors a grower has to consider carefully, according to Jordan.
"In the Virginia - Carolina area, we grow peanuts primarily for the in-shell trade, so shellers are more particular about which varieties they want to buy. Therefore, many producers grow varieties that donít have as much disease resistance because it is a better peanut for what the industry wants," Jordan says.
What varieties are available for the Virginia - Carolina area? According to Tom Isleib, a breeder with North Carolina State University, VA 98R is the most popular variety.
"In Virginia, the VA 98R is increasing in popularity because it is early maturing, has excellent pod characteristics, and the shellers like the balance of jumbo and fancy pods. It has a good yield and partial resistance to Sclerotinia blight," Isleib says.
However, he contends that the drawback to VA 98R is that it is very susceptible to CBR, which has been an increasing problem in Virginia the past several years.
In North Carolina, NC 12C is one of the top two varieties, says Isleib. "It has partial resistance to CBR and good pod and seed characteristics, but it does have a rank vine that can cause some problems at digging," he says.
The number two variety in each state is NC-V 11, which has a little more resistance to tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV) than the other varieties grown in the area. He explains that, although TSWV is not as severe in the Virginia - Carolina area as it is in the South, it still poses a problem.
Isleib adds that a new release called Perry is also starting to get some attention, but there is limited seed. He says the variety has good CBR resistance as well as partial resistance to Sclerotinia blight. Roughly equivalent to VA 98R, it has a better balance of jumbo and fancy pods that shellers seem to be pleased with. It also yields well.
Base Rate on Plants Per Acre
Once a grower settles on a variety, he then must consider the planting rate and the planting date. Wes Alexander says the Virginia Extension service recommends a rate based on plants per acre instead of pounds per acre because of the variation in peanut sizes between varieties.
"We recommend three to four plants per foot in single-row fields and half that in twin-row fields. We also like to plant by soil temperature. When soil temperatures rise to 65 degrees or warmer during the daytime, and it looks like it will stay that warm a few days, is the optimal time to plant given there is enough moisture," Alexander says.
Whether to inoculate peanuts with nitrogen-fixing bacteria is another important decision a grower has to make. Jordan explains that once a field has been inoculated, it normally retains enough inoculum in the soil for the next crop even if it is several years later. However, after three or more years without peanuts, the inoculum goes way down and correcting a problem with inoculation after the fact is difficult.
Finally, after a grower has prepared his land, chosen his variety and planted, he still must keep a sharp eye out for diseases and weeds. Bailey says fields should be scouted every week for diseases starting in mid- to late-July.
There are two major diseases in the area, explains Bailey, that weather information is used for: leafspot and Sclerotinia blight. When weather is favorable to disease, warnings are issued by the Extension service, thus allowing the farmers the opportunity to use preventative treatments only as needed prior to disease development. In North Carolina, growers can find weather information at www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/pp/peanut_map.
Rome Ethredge, a Georgia Extension agent, emphasizes that many of the decisions a farmer makes to produce a good crop have to be centered around TSWV resistance in this part of the country.
"The main thing a farmer thinks about in Georgia in terms of planting peanuts is TSWV," Ethredge says. "Growers can reduce the severity of TSWV by using the wilt risk index that suggests varieties, planting dates, seeding rates and other helpful hints to help producers lower their risk."
John Beasley, Extension peanut agronomist with the University of Georgia, says, "Here in the Southeast, choosing a variety has not been a very difficult question the last few years because a very high percentage has been planted with Georgia Green. The driving factor being its high resistance to TSWV."
Bill Branch, a peanut breeder at University of Georgia, explains that the Southeast grows mostly Georgia Green because of its high level of TSWV resistance and because it produces a higher yield and grade and results in a greater dollar value return per acre than other varieties grown in this region.
"A producer in Georgia has to pick a variety with good TSWV resistance. That is a must. There are very few new varieties available to growers that are comparable to Georgia Green in terms of TSWV resistance," Branch says.
Beasley goes on to explain that research has shown that C 99R has a slightly higher level of resistance to TSWV than Georgia Green. However, it is later maturing than Georgia Green by two or three weeks, which can cause problems in a late planting situation. Also, some of the later-maturing varieties tend to have more of a problem with peanut root knot nematode, contends Beasley.
TSWV Resistance a Must
"The C 99R has one of the best disease packages we have seen thus far. It has some resistance to white mold, late leafspot and TSWV, and there should be more seed available this year," Beasley says.
Ethredge adds that C 99R is also a larger-seeded peanut with a larger kernel than Georgia Green, and the shellers like it better.
Another new variety to look out for is AgraTech 201, contends Beasley. It has a mid-maturity range like Georgia Green, some TSWV resistance and very vigorous growth early in the season.
"Most growers in the Southeast will continue to grow Georgia Green, but if a grower has an opportunity based on seed supply to try these other two varieties, they should plant a small amount to see how they work in their peanut production system," Beasley says.
He contends that growers in Georgia have done an excellent job lately of managing their acreage to enable them to stay on a good rotation scheme. He also stresses that peanuts should be in the field no more than once every three years.
"We primarily use a peanut/cotton rotation because those are the two most profitable crops, and the producers who obtain the highest yields have generally waited between four and five years between peanut crops in the same field," says Beasley.
Twin Rows Offer Yield Advantage
Another decision many farmers are considering in the Southeast region is row spacing, explains Beasley. "Around 40 percent of last yearís peanuts in Georgia were planted in a twin-row pattern because research has clearly shown less TSWV on twin rows than single rows. We also continue to see an average yield advantage of at least 300 pounds per acre with twin rows over single rows."
However, Ethredge cautions that buying new equipment is costly and because a grower has a reduced ability to cultivate between rows, they may need additional herbicide treatments.
Other planting decisions include when to plant and how much to plant. According to Beasley, this is also dictated by TSWV. The TSWV risk index indicates that the lowest risk is for peanuts planted May 1-20.
"This year we will recommend that if soil temperatures are satisfactory for planting non-irrigated acres after April 25 (at least 65 degrees or higher for three consecutive days) and you have plenty of moisture, you may want to go ahead and plant. The risk of virus between the end of April and the first two weeks of May will not hurt you as bad as limited moisture in May causing you to plant late," says Beasley.
Beasley explains that there are several different ways to retrieve soil temperature information. Producers can go into the field around noon, put a soil thermometer at a 4-inch depth and leave it there at least an hour for several days in a row. Also, growers in Georgia can get soil temperature reports from the Web site www.griffin.peachnet.edu/bae.
Ethredge says seeding rate is also an important decision with the recent recommendation of six seed per foot of row in 36-inch rows and 3 seed per foot in twin rows.
"We have discovered that the higher plant population and a good, uniform stand increase TSWV resistance," says Ethredge.
Get Quick Emergence and Uniform Stand
Beasley adds that growers should plant under the best soil moisture and soil temperature conditions to get the most uniform stand and as quick emergence as possible. They should also be careful not to plant too deep, 2 ľ inches being the optimum depth. He also stresses that when calibrating the planter, pounds per acre is not important, but rather using six seed per foot of row.
Other decisions growers have to make include insecticides and herbicides. They have to decide what at-plant insecticide to use and whether it will be in-furrow or applied to the seed, explains Beasley. Furthermore, they have to decide whether to use one of the pre-emergence herbicides or wait and use an early post-emergence.
"A growerís weed control decisions should be driven by their weed species and the population densities that are in the field based on their past experience. It is not wise to make a blanket recommendation on a herbicide program. Growers should be making the decision on a field-to-field basis," says Beasley.
Finally, Beasley and Ethredge both caution growers to pay attention to the calcium levels in the pegging zone. With some of the new varieties sporting larger pods, special concern should be placed on calcium requirements.
"Growers should take a 3-inch soil sample on every field after planting to make sure there is adequate calcium. Even if lime has been applied early in the season, after the soil has been worked and planted, they still need to check the calcium levels in the top three inches of soil right after the peanuts emerge," says Beasley.
The Southwest differs from the other regions in several ways, according to Robert Lemon, Extension agronomist with Texas A&M University. First, the Southwest grows all four types of peanuts: Virginias, Runners, Valencia and Spanish. Secondly, about 50 percent of Texas peanuts are produced as additionals and not covered by quota.
"Additional contact prices have been in the $325 range for the past few years. The West Texas area has good soils, irrigation and producers with an interest in complementing their cotton production system. Generally, we donít have serious disease problems, so we can produce the crop with much less input costs," says Lemon.
Furthermore, West Texas and much of the Southwest is an irrigated production region, so growers have to consider water quantity and water quality.
"It should be a top priority to sample the water that will be servicing a pivot, because it is extremely important in the overall production. Poor water quality will make poor peanuts," says Lemon. "We are mainly dealing with a salinity issue as well as toxic constituents such as boron."
Rotation is also important in the Southwest, and Lemon points out that growers should give careful consideration to their herbicide program. Since the primary rotational crop is cotton, they need to be aware of herbicides that can eliminate that rotational scheme such as Cadre and Pursuit, which have 18-month plant back intervals back to cotton and grain sorghum.
In terms of choosing a variety, Lemon says that many producers have to plant what is specified in their contract. In West Texas, many growers are planting Flavor Runner 458, which is a high oleic peanut. In testing over the past several years, Flavor Runner 458 has performed as well or better than Florunner. In South and Central Texas, the most popular varieties include Tamrun 96 and Georgia Green.
According to Mark Black, an Extension plant pathologist with Texas A&M University, producers in South Texas need to choose varieties when possible to help with disease control, to help stagger harvest, and to match different soil types.
Soil Type May Determine Variety
Black recommends Tamrun 96 on heavier soils and AT-108 on lighter soils. And Georgia Green does well on uniform soils with good irrigation.
He also says that all three have fairly good resistance to TSWV. Moreover, Tamrun 96 is more resistant to southern blight and podrot complex than AT-108 and Georgia Green. However, they are all susceptible to leaf spots and rust.
"We have more problems in South Texas with rust disease than most other areas. It apparently winters in the Caribbean area, and the air movements coming out of that area seem to get us every year," says Black.
Another problem growers face in many areas of the Southwest is the planting date. Lemon says that in West Texas there is a relatively short window for planting peanuts. Runners should be in the ground by May 15 or sooner, while Spanish types can go in as late as June 1.
"Because of our short season, and the acreage of cotton to be planted, we really canít base planting completely on soil temperature. We often have to put peanuts in the ground under less than optimal conditions," he says.
One thing is for certain, regardless of what region a grower is from, for a peanut production system to achieve its peak performance, it requires year-round maintenance, and farmers have to plan farther ahead than ever before to minimize mistakes and maximize profits.
"If growers want to produce a good peanut crop, it is important for them to stay abreast of the latest research that can play a role in their decision-making process, which begins long before planting," says Beasley.
Shannon Holman is a freelance writer based in Lonoke, Ark.